A few weeks ago, the articles here caught the attention of a gentleman who was struggling with what the church, historically has taught about tithing and he made several comments, which I used to establish a dialogue with him. You can read the comments here.
While I appreciated what he had to say, one of the things we continued to disagree on was whether or not the tithe was still applicable today as it was in Old Testament Biblical times. One of the resources I did not have at the time, but have recently located, was this 4-part series by Australian minister Clive Pick on Kingdom Economics.
In the sermon reprint, I read the words that I wish I had been able to deliver to Mr. Lindsay, but had trouble expressing properly:
You don’t give the tithe you don’t sow the tithe, and the tithe is not an offering. The tithe is something you return. If you don’t return it, you are withholding it. Now that is the key the church needs to turn, because the tithe is the key to the release – not only of finances for the body of Christ, but also of the authority of the body of Christ.
You see, the tithe is not something we give back to God. God has given us every good gift, including the means to earn a living and create sufficiency and even prosperity for ourselves. For years, we’ve all been taught in churches that we give back to God in response to that gift. But that teaching is slightly skewed, because it’s not ours to give. In Malachi, God calls His people thieves when they do not “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…”
But the fact is, the charge is much stronger. God says that we are stealing because we are keeping what was never ours – withholding the tithe instead of releasing it. Rather than being good stewards, we’re pilfering from our Lord and Redeemer – essentially biting the hand that feeds us, and then wondering why His blessings aren’t flowing down from on high onto us.
In his recent book, Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To, Anthony DeStefano points out that there is something very significant about the way God addresses giving in Malachi 3. In every other situation in the Bible, when God interacts with His people, we are warned not to test God.
Exodus 17 – “Why do you put the LORD to the test?”
Numbers 14 – “not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times- not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.”
Deuteronomy 6 – “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.”
Psalm 78 – “But they put God to the test and rebelled against the Most High; they did not keep his statutes. Like their fathers they were disloyal and faithless, as unreliable as a faulty bow. They angered him with their high places; they aroused his jealousy with their idols.When God heard them, He was very angry; He rejected Israel completely.”
Psalm 95 – “…do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
Isaiah 7 – “Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.’”
Matthew 4 – “Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’”
Luke 4 – “Jesus answered, ‘It says: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’”
Acts 5 – “Peter said to her, ‘How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’ At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.”
Acts 15 – “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?”
I Corinthians 10 – “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.”
Hebrews 3 – “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, “Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.” So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”’”
But the terms are radically reversed in Malachi 3:8-12, where God actually challenges us to “’Test me in this… and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the LORD Almighty.”
If God chose this one area to allow His people to test Him, does that not place an even higher amount of importance on tithing? Yet so many people choose to ignore the teachings, dispute their validity and argue that since some pastors in the church abused their authority in respect to the tithe, then we should ignore this particular spiritual discipline. That makes about as much sense as saying that we should ignore the teachings on adultery and fornication because some pastors and priests twisted them to serve their own aberrant and perverted desires.
We see a lot of people out there who claim that God has called them into ministry, yet they live in poverty. Now, I’m not saying that they’re living below their means or getting by with less – we could all bear to do some of that. I am talking about people who, in the course of their ministry, significantly struggle financially day to day, living offering to offering, leaving bills unpaid or relying on government subsidies to make ends meet.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the problem is two-fold. First, the people of God should be giving more to all ministries. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, if the church members actually tithed, we would have more money than we could spend. But, a little more controversially, if God is not meeting your needs, then perhaps you need to reevaluate your “call” to ministry.
Bear with me while I explain. It is a fact that God pays for what He orders. And I’m not talking about having a few weeks or even months shy of the full amount necessary. That, in fact, may be God testing your faith and building your financial spiritual maturity – stripping away those things that really don’t matter so you can clearly see what does. But, if you are consistently, month in and month out, year after year unable to pay your bills, feed your family and maintain your home, I think you might have misunderstood what God was saying to you, because He would never speak a word that is in conflict with His written word. That is why we are told in I John to test the spirits and in 2 Corinthians to test ourselves.
One other thing I’d like to point out about giving and receiving, sowing and reaping. In Acts 5, we see the story of Ananias and Sapphira. I’ve even quoted a portion of it above, but let me bring the whole passage out right now:
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
I want to discuss this passage for a moment, because so much has been written about the New Testament vision for tithing, based on this incident in the early church.
Reformed theologian John Calvin points out that when Malachi is addressing the house of Israel, the reason he employs the phrase, “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” is because the Jews were bringing as little as they could get away with in – most of the time only half of the tithe – but at the same time, pretending that they were serving God by bringing anything at all, and those who gave half were elevating themselves to positions of high honor because they were giving the most. In Calvin’s language, they were trifling with God, performing their “duties” in such a way that the others would not see their perfidy. Perfidy is the act of violating faith or allegiance; violation of a promise or vow; faithlessness; treachery. So what Calvin is saying is that the children of Israel were stealing from God by not returning the first fruits portion of their blessings to Him and they were making it worse by lying about it – trying to make themselves appear more holy, and in the process mocking God.
Sound familiar? Why are Ananias and Sapphira struck down? It’s not because they kept part of the money for themselves. Peter makes it clear that they were entitled to the money – even all of the money, if they’d so chosen. The reason they are struck dead and made an example of is because they deliberately lied to the Apostles and to God by claiming they were bringing the entire amount for God’s use when in fact they had kept a portion for themselves. And Sapphira compounds their sin by outright lying to Peter when asked directly if the money they brought was the full amount. Again, it’s not that they didn’t being the full amount, its that they lied about it to make themselves seem more holy.
John Calvin’s words echo from when he wrote them in the Middle Ages and still ring true today: “…it is no new or unusual thing for men to pretend to do the duties they owe to God, and at the same time to take away from him what is his own, and to transfer it to themselves, and that manifestly, so that their impiety is evident, though it be covered by the veil of dissimulation (hiding the truth).” Calvin goes on to note that God offers the challenge to test himself to dispel the malicious and slanderous things some of the Israelites were saying about God – claiming God was not consistent, because He had, by His own spiritual law, withheld His blessings from the people.
But God’s words are not just for the Israelites in Malachi’s time, or for the disciples and apostles of the early church. Are you suffering because you feel God’s blessings have been withheld from you? While there could be many reasons why God is withholding His blessing, the most prevalent and powerful in our world today is due to people’s hearts being hardened against giving God the first fruits. Or to use the more appropriate language, by being greedy or overly concerned with money – FOR WHATEVER REASON – they are either unwilling or afraid to release back to God some of His blessings; withholding the appropriate response of money, time or talent – and keeping themselves from receiving the greater blessings God wishes to bestow upon them.
Calvin goes on to point out that our disobedience hurts everything. It hurts God by breaking our relationship with Him. It hurts us by keeping us from God’s blessings and breaking His relationship with us. And it hurts even the earth itself, which yearns, as Paul writes, for the release of what they were created to be – a source of blessing for God’s people.
There is a lot of talk right now about The Secret – the “Law of Attraction,” that draws all good things to the people who can direct the universe’s formless stuff with their mental powers. The true secret is that God has created the earth to serve us, but when sin broke the world, the rules changed. The creation still wants to serve God’s children, but we must be obedient to God’s spiritual laws to allow even the very earth to share its wealth with us.
Calvin even suggests that when God tells Malachi that he will “open the floodgates of heaven,” or “open you the windows of heaven” (KJV) and pour out a blessing – He is talking about supplying the rain that allows crops to grow – then preventing the pests/devourers and preserving the fruit on the vine until it can be picked.
Interestingly enough, at the end of the chapter, God explains what will happen when His people return to obeying His laws: “They will be mine,” says the LORD Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (emphasis mine)
Test God. I’m seriously asking. Until we see that the tithe, as well as God’s other financial principles and spiritual laws lead to a much more prosperous and happy life than anything we can create under our own power, we will never witness the true power of God. And many more souls will be lost, because we refused to obey God’s laws and supply a conduit for His blessings and salvation for ALL people. Don’t you owe it to your family and friends to try? I guarantee you, God will answer.